Perspective is many times one of those things that you don't have until after the fact. Sometimes, you simply need a reminder of perspective.
The past week I had the great honor of leading a team of 15 people, from the ages of 8 to 80+, to Oaxaca, Mexico. Check out pictures of the trip here. This week long mission trip was one that involved working with our mission partners. It was humbling and again, perspective-giving.
During the week we were able to spend three days at an orphanage. At this orphanage, children from all ages, many with disabilities, live. As I walked the grounds of the orphanage, I would spend time with a few of the boys who were disabled in wheelchairs. With crumbs on their face and flies surrounding them, my heart broke. If this orphanage was not there, these boys would not be taken care of. Honestly-they probably wouldn't be alive. It was humbling, because as I spent time with these boys, they had smiles on their faces the entire time.
During our week, we also got to spend time with our indigenous missionaries. These young, vibrant nationals are going into villages where the persecution and death occurred to the last evangelical Christians who went in. Our partnership with them is critical to their continuation in spreading the Gospel to areas of Mexico where there is not a single known follower of Jesus. Their faith in the face of outright persecution was humbling, to say the least. It makes the Christianity that most of us walk in America look petty, to say the least.
So this past week, our group walked away not realizing "how blessed we are to live in America", but "how much those followers of Jesus in Oaxaca, Mexico" can teach us about faith. To them, faith looks much more real on a daily basis than to most of us. To this end, it must change. We must all live our lives in such as way that God has to come through. We must cease striving to build our kingdoms, and begin taking serious expanding the Kingdom of God, no matter the cost.
For the Glory of God.
Allow me to share a story today from years past. It encourages me as I think about it. I was going through old emails and was reminded of just how faithful our Lord is to us, when we surrender to Him.
Let me set the stage for you. The day is November 10, 2009. I was helping get a young church started in the urban core of Kansas City, Missouri. Along with this, I was raising support to do this, as well as working three other jobs (property management, unloading books at Barnes and Noble early in the mornings, relief manager at Ronald McDonald House). Add to the equation, I was finishing my MDIV at Midwestern Seminary. As well, I had been dating a girl named Leslie, who would later become my wife, who had just moved to Kansas City 4 months previously. Needless to say-I was a busy man. Probably too busy, as I look back. Never the less, it is where the Lord had me at the time.
I knew even on November 10th that I wanted to marry Leslie. I struggled with the idea of proposing to her, because at the time I didn't have any money set aside specifically to buy a ring, nor was there any hope of having that kind of expendable income in my possession anytime soon. Financing an engagement ring is not my style, so that was not an option. So, I had just started to pray. I felt selfish in my prayers. I prayed that the Lord would provide, somehow, a way for me to attain a ring and propose to her.
So come back now to November 10, 2009. I had been at Barnes and Noble early that morning unloading 50 LB boxes of books, and I was beat. It was around lunch time, and I had just arrived home. I got my mail, and noticed an unusually bulky letter. It was in a normal sized letter envelope. I set it aside and cooled off from work a bit. I went later and grabbed the mail. I opened the letter, and to my surprise, the envelope was FULL OF CASH MONEY. It was nothing but $20's and $50's. In total, there was $2000 CASH that someone had sent through the mail!
I immediately emailed Leslie, and this is exactly what I said:
I just got a letter in the mail with $2,000.00 cash in it, with no note from who it is from, except that is marked as from Lee's Summit. Holy crap!
Now before anyone gets on to me, yes, I did write the last two words. Hopefully i've become a little more refined since then. :-)
My immediate thought was-"Oh No-Someone left their drug money at the wrong apartment!". It would not have been a stretch to think of that in the area of town I lived. It wasn't the most sketchy part of town, but it wasn't the least sketchy either. At times, stuff went down in that area. So my first reaction was, "What do I do?!" But then I looked at the envelope again. It has my name on it. It was addressed to me. It had a return address, out of Lee's Summit, but no name. So I did what any good investigator does who wants knowledge-I googled the address. The map showed a vacant, dilapidated strip mall. Not a soul there who could have sent it.
To this day I have no idea who gave me that money. At times, it still drives me nuts. I'm confident I have an idea, and I believe that person lied to me when I asked them if it was them. :-) I'm confident they wanted to remain anonymous.
But ultimately, The Lord provided those resources for me. I was able to, just a few months later, propose to Leslie, and the rest is history.
I'm not foolish enough, nor does my theology dictate, that if I pray for more money, God is always going to drop a wad of cash at my front door. The Lord Gives, and the Lord Takes Away. In either case, he is still God. However on this day, it was God giving me the resources, so he may be glorified through marriage. My heart was to marry Leslie, so that we could serve the Lord together for a lifetime in marriage and ministry. I'm thankful for that day and the many i've had as a husband since.
God is faithful. He is not always going to do what he did in this story, but again, I never asked Him to. What happened in this story was a complete shock. I anticipated working hard for many months to scrounge together a few dollars to buy a ring out of a gumball machine or something. :-)
For the Glory of God.
Be still before the Lord and wait patiently for him;
This verse has rang true in my heart this morning. How many of us desire to be used by the Lord, to grow in our faith, to know that God is using us mightily? For those of us who follow Christ with our lives, so many days are days not of encouragement, but of discouragement. We allow our minds to compare ourselves to others. We think, "If only I were in this situation, things would be great". Or, we think, "If only I had this, I could be able to be a Godly leader who has influence". As I sit and ponder, I think this relates a lot to my previous post on idols. This could be an idol in my life. Wow. There you go. I admitted it. Publicly. I have an idol, and it is to look at other "successful" people of the Lord and wish I was at their stature. Confession is indeed good for the soul. :)
How many of are still before the Lord? Meaning, how many of us truly come to the Lord, in the quiet, turn off our endless connected devices, and rest in Him? To how many of us is the presence of the Lord enough for us? How many of us wait, patiently, as he reveals himself to us in scripture? How many of our hearts relish in the Word of God, knowing that it is living and active?
My guess is far too many of us do not do anything of the sort as described above. When we become impatient about something or a situation, we stress out about it. I do. I will go down a path of worry that is senseless. I seem to think that by me worrying about something (that really doesn't need to be worried about), that I am justified in it, and in some sort of weird way, worry is a balm for my soul. However, one doesn't have spend too much time in worry to realize that it is not a balm. It is a disruptor. It takes us off focus of Jesus.
We all can worry through our entire life, if we want to. What i've learned though is that God is a lot bigger than me. God is a lot bigger than my little life. Instead of all of us running in circles, always trying to figure out how we can better ourselves, and comparing ourselves to others, I suggest a better alternative.
Be still before the Lord and wait patiently for Him.
Walk your life in a way that you can be still before the Lord, and wait patiently for Him.
As you do this, you will realize that the Lord is better than anything you could create or dream up for your life. You will realize the Christ is your prize....not things, not stature, not position, not a big house, not a degree, not recognition.
Christ, and Christ alone, is your prize. And when you are still before Him, and wait patiently for Him, your life will be completely transformed. You will fall in love with your Savior, and life will look completely different than before. You will walk with a confidence each day that no matter the circumstance, Christ wins. He is supreme.
For the Glory of God.
I highly recommend you go check out this link. It is from a church that is loving the community they are in, not for "church growth", but for following the Great Commandment. I love this church, was a member at this church in the past, and I love their heart.
I recently read an amazing benefit that Google offers its employees. If a person dies while being employed for Google, the spouse of that person will receive half of his or her salary for a decade-10 years. In addition to that, each child of that person who died will receive $1000/month until they turn 19 years old, or 23 years old if a full time student. As well, the spouse will have stock options for those 10 years as well. And for all of this, there is no tenure required. Meaning you basically don't have to invest anything or time before the opportunity will be available to you. No, this is not 1950....this is 2013. This is incredible. The story is right in that Google is treating its employees that are dead better than some companies treat their employees who are alive! You can read the story here.
I don't usually try to draw parallels too loosely from stories to apply some spiritual matter. However, I just can't shake this one, so humor me here. I just can't stop thinking about Google, and how much I have come to respect this aspect of this company. It almost makes me want to go out and buy a Chromebook right now. :-) I would venture to say if you surveyed employees of Google, they would be pretty happy in their sense of community with each other. They know if one of them goes down for the cause, others will step up and care for their families, etc. That's brotherhood. That's sisterhood. That's being a part of something that matters.
As I ask myself, when I think about church, do I think the same way? Do I think of a community of people that are living distinctly, for something that absolutely matters? Are we a people that all look different (not simply their little church group) but are unified around Christ, so much that we would go to extravagant, sacrificial efforts to advance the Gospel and love of Christ to a lost and dying world? Does that begin even in our own gatherings?
I can tell you that at times, yes, it does. Leslie and I have been on both ends of the spectrum. We have received love, care, and sacrificial love and practical matters when we needed it. We, at times, have felt overwhelmed by the care and love of the people around us. Unfortunately other times we have wondered why some churches even continue to exist, as there is not much Godly going on in them at all.
As I process in my young life, when we think about the Gospel in our individual lives, uniformly we must think about the Gospel in community. In fact, I would go as far as to say it is difficult to impossible to advance the Gospel life-long without a community around you. We call that church. Not the institution (although i'm not anti-establishment at all, like some), but the people. Not a worship service, but a group of people, that are different in areas of life but are unified by the Gospel of Christ. A group of people that say,
"No matter the cost-we will go".
"No matter the time-we will make it"
"No matter the sacrifice-we will sacrifice".
When the church is unified around Christ, and are willing to seriously relinquish their lives and comfort for the sake of the Gospel-mighty things begin to happen.
This begins in community. This begins in believers gathering together, not just to learn (although I am a learner, a continual student, and love to learn) but to grow. Believers that are willing to confess sin to each other, willing to sacrifice for each other, willing to listen to each other, and willing to serve one another. As this happens, we must also do the same to those who are not following Christ. Loving our neighbor as ourselves isn't just waving at them in the driveway. It isn't just a nice verse to put on a theme of a conference or discussion. It is real life. It is sacrificing for them. It is loving people, even when they don't love you back. It is even apologizing to them if you've wronged them, and sometimes even if you have not. It's illuminating Christ to them, and living in community with them, even if they do not follow Christ. It is openly sharing the Hope of your calling, in everyday life, with those you have been placed around to Shepherd.
So perhaps we can learn a thing or two from Google. Here you have a group of people, all from different backgrounds, all working for the same cause. When someone working for the cause has a struggle or even dies, the rest of the people come around them and make sure they are taken care of. Wow. What a testimony to the purpose and ambition of Google.
What is the testimony to the purpose of we, as followers of Christ? As a body, what is our purpose? What is our ambition? How are we living lives that are different and sacrificial? What are we really living for? Does it matter?
This week I will gather with a group of young married couples and discuss this very element for each of our lives. We will ask questions surrounding the element of community, and if it is even something we think about.
The question we can all ask ourselves, and should ask ourselves regularly, is, "Is the way I am living my life matter? It is driving people toward the Gospel? It is driving my heart towards deeper worship of God and community with followers of Jesus? Do I love Jesus and have more adoration for Jesus than I did a year ago?
The answers to some of those questions might trouble some of us if we are honest-and they should.
Praise the Lord for the Grace of Christ.
For the Glory of God.
When we mention Idols in the Christian context, we many times think about some far off land where someone is burning a candle to a statue carved out of wood. We think of something that seems so foreign to us, that we might even be glad in our own hearts that we know better than that sort of thing. But do we? Are we really clear of idols in our own lives, in our own context and time?
This past week I led the group of young couples I meet with weekly to consider idols in our lives. We determined that from a Christian perspective, an idol is ANYTHING that is more important to our hearts and lives than God. ANYTHING. We came to the realization that sometimes, we put the good above the great. Meaning-we sometimes put good things in our lives above the great thing in our lives. When we do that-it becomes an idol.
The question we have to ask ourselves, and one that we are beginning to ask, is, "Think of the one thing that if it disappeared from your life, your life would not be worth living anymore." The follow up to that is, What that thing is, if it is not God, is your idol.
Many of us do not worship a carved wooden creature. But many of put our jobs above God. Many of us put the almighty dollar above God. Many of us choose to live where we live not based on what God wants, but on what our perceived comfort is. On a road trip recently, I was listening to a sermon by Matt Chandler, pastor of the Village Church in Texas. Chandler described how he likes sports, and that is exactly why he can't follow it much. He said this because if he followed it-he would actually care about it. He knows his personality, and he would care about it way too much. It would consume him. We are not be consumed by that-but by one thing-our Savior Jesus Christ. I admire his ambition, and can relate to it. I love St. Louis Cardinals Baseball. If I wanted to-I could be a serious Cardinals junky (and there have been times in my life where I really have been). But if those things consume me, something else doesn't. Does this mean I must never watch a Cardinals game again? Of course not. Come on, folks. But if my life gets disjointed because I can't watch a baseball game, then we might be on to something that needs to be fixed.
Many of us (and hear me-this is when it gets personal) put our families above God. We trick ourselves into thinking that our spouses are more important than God. We think, "Well surely God wants me to love my wife". This is certainly the case. Men-God wants you to love your wife as Christ loves the church (good luck with that...whew!). Women-God wants you to honor your husband, love him, and trust his leadership. However, the only way I can be the best husband I can be, is to be the best follower of my Savior, Jesus, as I can be. As a man, I must pursue Jesus with all of my being. This will in turn make my marriage healthy, successful, and grow. The same goes for Leslie. She must seek first Jesus, and our marriage will be healthy, successful and grow. If I elevate Leslie above Christ in my life, there is a serious displacement. And it will ultimately change the health of my marriage and walk with Christ.
We must begin to think-what things have their grasp around our lives. If it is not our Lord Jesus Christ-it is an idol. We must flee into the arms of Jesus, repent, and continue the lifelong process of trusting Him as our ultimate.
John Calvin described man as a "perpetual factory of idols". I suppose this is what it means to be and live on this side of the story. I long for the day that I don't continually build man made idols in the place of the beauty of our creator.
Until then, I press on, I trust Jesus, and I repent when I recognize things in my life that are good that I am elevating to great.
There is only one GREAT, and that is Jesus. He purchased my life with this blood he shed, and I can do nothing less than give all my life to Him in joyful pleasure for his sacrifice.
For the Glory of God.
Matthew is 34 years old and currently lives in St Louis, Missouri with his wife Leslie. He serves as the Associate Pastor at The Groves Church, in Webster Groves, Missouri.